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Babel

Drama movie directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

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Tragedy in Translation

  • Jan 15, 2007
  • by
Rating:
+5
A towering achievement, 'Babel,' provides a great alchemy. Last year's best films often had twisty, interlocking plots that came together from fragmented lives. 'Babel' continues this trend where few films have gone since. Not only that but the beautiful cinematography (courtesy Rodrigo Prieto) and the wonderfully placed soundtrack from Gustavo Santanella (both of 'Brokeback Mountain' fame) are just a few of the nuances in this brilliant movie. Having some of the feel of 'Syriana,' 'Babel' digs deeper. Both movies are grand and comprehensive with a theme: 'Babel' does for communication gaps what 'Syriana' did for the world oil industry and all its consuming problems--no pun intended! If movies are to give us escapist fare or illuminating transcendence, then 'Babel' succeeds in both by offering absorbing protagonists in a tight and ingenious story. Unlike 'Syriana,' a very good movie, 'Babel' doesn't exhaust us mentally. Beyond that, there's no comparison. 'Babel' is a magnificent and brilliant film that never stops fermenting resources.

Briefly, Richard and Susan Jones (Brad Pitt and Kate Blanchet) are traveling in a tour bus through the desert of Morocco. Along the nearby cliffs, two boys are testing a questionable rifle their father obtained from a Japanese hunter. They are shooting at rocks and other targets, skeptical of the claims that it can shoot up to three kilometers. The results seem to support their doubts until the younger boy shoots at a tour bus coming on a twisty, desert road below them. The result is that Susan is shot, barely discerning its impact at first. The movie then splits its focus in four pieces: The Japanese man has a deaf daughter (Koji Yakusho) who is isolated by her handicap, and typically, is frustrated by her luck with dating. Revelations are made about her father as well as the mother's mysterious death, which is given one rendering by the daughter, another by the father. Ties are made to the Japanese hunter with the gun found at the boys' home. Meanwhile, the boys' benign action creates an International incident. The Post 9/11 world is, understandably, nervous at the pull of a trigger. Fearing repercussions from America, the Moroccan government descends on the boys' family and community with terse language and much firepower. Misunderstandings are stretched to the breaking point. Back home in the US, the Smith's caretaker, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, cares about the two Smith children under her wing, but she won't miss a key relative's wedding in her native Mexico. Her solution? Take the kids over the border with her nephew, Santiago, driving the way to the fiesta. Her drunken nephew partly is responsible for making the return a living hell. (Things don't translate well at the border patrol.) Then, of course, there's the Smiths, who must break through the Arab language barrier and forget that the Third World doesn't offer the amenities, including health care, the way it does at home. Kindness translates in any language, and whenever it's present in the movie, `Babel' is partly defeated.

To tell the details of 'Babel' is a real spoiler, so I leave you to watch it. But one development is a testament to the movie's marvelousness. When we go to the discothèque in Japan, we hear and feel the silence and alienation Chieko goes through as she can only imitate others' bumping and grinding. We can see how painfully aware she becomes in her silence as she notices her fellow deaf friend stealing her boyfriend escort. Effective to every detail, the acting, editing, writing, and directing (Guillermo Arriaga and Alejandro Ina'rrita, respectively for the latter two) make 'Babel' a masterpiece. In an age of instant text messaging, 'Babel' reminds us of our frailty in ample situations that get "lost in translation". And a world of misunderstandings can take place with language barriers. (Highly recommended)

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More Babel reviews
review by . March 06, 2009
With direction similar to Crash, this movie focused on the plight of three different sets of kids. Two young kids are staying with their Mexican housekeeper while their parents are traveling in Morocco. Their mother gets shot which prevents the parents from returning. The housekeeper meanwhile needs to attend her son's wedding across the boarder in Mexico. With nobody else to care for the kids and not wanting to miss the wedding, she takes the kids with her and her "shady" nephew to Mexico for the …
review by . April 16, 2009
In Genesis Chapter 11 it is said that men, unified under one common language, decided to build a tower that would reach to the heavens, proving that they were greater then God. They were to call this tower Babel. God, sensing that united nothing would be impossible for them, confused their languages to prevent the tower from being finished. Years later people have found the ability to learn other languages but the language barriers still causes lots of problems. None the least of which is in "Babel," …
review by . April 28, 2009
DVD
Several stories set in places around the world are related only by a freak accident with a rifle: An American couple (Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchette) are on a tour bus in the Moroccan desert when the wife is shot by a some poor children who are trying out their new rifle. Back home in San Diego, the couple's housekeeper takes their children across the border into Mexico with near-tragic results, while the rifle is traced to a businessman in Japan.     The separate-but-ultimately-related-stories …
review by . November 01, 2008
Although this movie's very long   And jumps around quite madly   You'll find it's really all about   People behaving badly     Moroccan boys play with a gun   Without a passing thought   That shooting at a passing bus   Would wreak the wrath it wrought     A couple is vacationing   But not having much fun   They're fighting over everything   Since losing their young son …
review by . March 25, 2007
It is difficult to make one good film, but director Iñárritu manages to make three good short movies. I expected the stories to be connected in a strenuous manner. Instead, I was treated with an interesting and emotionally satisfying production that succeeds in making a point that the world is a very small place. Brad Pitt is barely recognizable with a beard and several wrinkles. But the imperfection of his features doesn't matter when compared with the realistic passion behind his performance as …
review by . March 12, 2007
With direction similar to Crash, this movie focused on the plight of three different sets of kids. Two young kids are staying with their Mexican housekeeper while their parents are traveling in Morocco. Their mother gets shot which prevents the parents from returning. The housekeeper meanwhile needs to attend her son's wedding across the boarder in Mexico. With nobody else to care for the kids and not wanting to miss the wedding, she takes the kids with her and her "shady" nephew to Mexico for the …
review by . February 24, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Story in general, acting, particularly with regards to the children      Cons: One of the storylines seems tacked on for political reasons      The Bottom Line: This is a difficult and touching story told in many languages. Not for a casual viewer. Still recommended.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot.      Babel is a theme based movie rather than one driven by …
review by . February 19, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
In Genesis Chapter 11 it is said that men, unified under one common language, decided to build a tower that would reach to the heavens, proving that they were greater then God. They were to call this tower Babel. God, sensing that united nothing would be impossible for them, confused their languages to prevent the tower from being finished. Years later people have found the ability to learn other languages but the language barriers still causes lots of problems. None the least of which is in "Babel," …
review by . December 27, 2006
Pros: Well written story; well acted; timely.     Cons: None     The Bottom Line: Babel was in short, a stunning movie and it stayed with me long after I had left the theater, but it is a long movie so bring a cushion.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie''s plot. I am a student of the unintended consequence, which means that I also fancy myself a critical thinker. A critical thinker weighs, or at least …
About the reviewer
John L. Peterson ()
Ranked #100
I am a substitute teacher who enjoysonline reviewing. Skiing is my favorite pastime; weight training and health are my obsessions;and music and movies feed my psyche. Books are a treasure and a pleasure … more
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Brilliantly conceived, superbly directed, and beautifully acted,Babelis inarguably one of the best films of 2006. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his co-writer, Guillermo Arriaga (the two also collaborated onAmores Perrosand21 Grams) weave together the disparate strands of their story into a finely hewn fabric by focusing on what appear to be several equally incongruent characters: an American (Brad Pitt) touring Morocco with his wife (Cate Blanchett) become the focus of an international incident also involving a hardscrabble Moroccan farmer (Mustapha Rachidi) struggling to keep his two young sons in line and his family together. A San Diego nanny (Adriana Barraza), her employers absent, makes the disastrous decision to take their kids with her to a wedding in Mexico. And a deaf-mute Japanese teen (the extraordinary Rinko Kikuchi) deals with a relationship with her father (Koji Yakusho) and the world in general that's been upended by the death of her mother. It is perhaps not surprising, or particularly original, that a gun is the device that ties these people together. YetBabelisn't merely about violence and its tragic consequences. It's about communication, and especially the lack of it--both intercultural, raising issues like terrorism and immigration, and intracultural, as basic as husbands talking to their wives and parents understanding their children. Iñárritu's command of his medium, sound and visual alike, ...
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